For Conservatives, Hysteria Never Ends

steyn A few weeks ago I gave an email address to a conservative zine called Human Events. An ad blurb said it was “Ronald Reagan’s favorite magazine”. They offered to send me a newsletter every week chock full of links to right-wing articles and columns, including Ann Coulter’s and Robert Novak’s. I figured, Why not? See what the other guys are thinking.

Not much as it turns out. Oh, I get the columns they promised – once a week. Coulter, Novak, Newt Gingrich. But I also get flooded every day with sales pitches for conservative books, each and every one of them a hysterical diatribe against everything from illegal immigrants and terrorist-supporting liberals to global warming and why high energy prices are good for consumers (they encourage more exploration for more oil). The tone of these things is shrill beyond any hope of sanity ever creeping in, even slightly, and sheer hatred is the coin of the realm. This is direct mail at its most vicious.

A case in point might be the latest screed to hit the stands, a thoughtfully-titled opus from Mark Steyn that sort of encapsulates the conservative world-view in a single phrase: America Alone: The End of the World As We Know It. There you go. I don’t think I’d want to meet any of the people they’re trying to sell it to. Imagine what kind of knuckle-dragger would be attracted by a pitch like this:

ARE YOU READY FOR A NEW DARK AGES?

Someday soon, you might wake up to the call to prayer from a Muslim muezzin. Millions of Europeans already do.

And liberals will still tell you that “diversity is our strength” — while Talibanic enforcers cruise our cities burning books and barber shops… the Supreme Court decides sharia law doesn’t violate the “separation of church and state” … and the Hollywood Left gives up gay rights in favor of the much safer charms of polygamy.

If you think this can’t happen, you haven’t been paying attention…

Click a link to the HE website and you get more details, hardly less insane than the pitch, which amount to a laundry list of right-wing peeves dressed in language where the assumption is that anyone who doesn’t accept them at face-value is barking mad.

  • Why Libya’s Qaddafi is probably correct when he says that “there are signs that Allah will grant Islam victory in Europe without swords, without guns, without conquests”
  • Why the progressive Left can be in favor of Big Government or population control but not both and how that mutual incompatibility is about to plunge Europe into societal collapse
  • The hidden reason that the problem of Islamic jihad has exploded across the world since 1970
  • The disquieting implications of the fact that Islam is a religion, not a race or nationality as is commonly claimed in the West; and an explicitly political religion at that
  • And that’s only half of half of them. Apparently Mr Steyn (pronounced “stain”, which is curiously appropriate) believes Europe is on the verge of implosion – an “observation” that will no doubt surprise most Europeans – because it doesn’t wage war against its immigrant population, doesn’t murder Muslims in their beds, and doesn’t face up to the fact that it’s being taken over by a secret government of Islamic jihadists. The point of his book is to warn Americans that liberals are allowing the very same thing to happen here.

    This stuff isn’t even marginally coherent, which seems to be the hallmark of conservative writers. Look at a list of “stories” hyped right below the book pitch in an attempt to sell you a subscription to HE.

    [A]t HUMAN EVENTS we plead “guilty” to compulsively digging up and revealing facts that mainstream reporters go to extraordinary lengths to keep you from ever learning about. Below is a quick sampling.

    Keep in mind, all of these revelations appeared in HUMAN EVENTS, but were virtually ignored by the regular media…

    • Big corporations give more money to liberals. (Surprised? Blue-chip companies now give far more money to the Left – although Democrats still cry “poor” and the media still call the GOP “the party of big business.”)
    • 45% of British Muslims believe the U.S. and Israel planned the 9/11 attacks. (This clearly does not square with the media view of Islam as a gentle, rational faith.)
    • American companies recently did $1 billion worth of direct business with Cuba. (This story gets no play because the press want you believe a “cruel U.S. business embargo” is the cause of Cuban poverty.)
    • High energy prices are NOT all bad. (For the first time in 15 years, the number of new U.S. oil wells drilled tops the 1,000 mark – and exploration is up 35% over last year.)
    • Kyoto Treaty can’t alter climate – period. (That’s what treaty backers admit. Nevertheless, the global press bends over backwards to cover this up.)
    • The North Korean missile launch was helpful – for Red China. (Chinese military leaders got a detailed look at U.S. missile defenses – sea, air and land-based detection systems and frequencies used.)
    • Since 9/11, Islamic jihadists have perpetrated not 500, not 2,500, but more than 5,000 terror attacks. (Liberals hush-up this number, claiming the truth would provoke “reprisals” by “violent” Americans against “peaceful” Muslims.)

    I can’t imagine why these stories weren’t on the front page of every paper in the country. And I apparently forgot that I helped “hush up” all those terror attacks, along with the rest of the world, which appears to be blissfully unaware that they’ve suffered so badly. Like, explosions and terrorist attacks NEVER make the papers around here.

    It’s all way past fear-mongering and deeply into hysteria-mongering. These people aren’t selling you the fear that you might be subjected to a 9/11 type deal, they’re selling you a lunatic obsession that the whole of civilization is about to be destroyed and they’re trying to convince you to escape the coming holocaust of Westerners by massacring your sanity and any evil liberals who pass by. It’s your duty, godammit! WE MUST SAVE OUR CIVILIZATION!

    I realize this isn’t going to come as a surprise to a lot of you. It didn’t to me either, except for the sheer amount of it. There are 3 or 4 books published every week by the most unstable, irrational conservative writers in the country, each of whom seems bent on being more unstable and irrational than they were last week. The people who buy this drivel are actually convinced it’s all true, every last insane raving and invented “fact”, and they buy it over and over again, enough of them to push the Coulters and Steyns onto bestseller lists.

    I mention all this only as background for a question:

    Since conservatives seem to have developed into a solid cadre of hysterical cowards frightened of their own shadows and totally lost in an unreal fantasy land of super-powerful enemies lurking in every flower bed, no connection to any recognizable reality left, what are we going to do about it? How are we going to deal with them?

    We can’t talk to them, they’re too timid. We can’t explain anything, they’ve been taught not to believe anything we say. We can’t ignore them, there are too many of them and their excessive fear makes them screaming maniacs. We could go around them if we had political leaders inured to hysteria but we don’t.

    They’re not going to go away. They’re locked, cowering, in their positions. We outnumber them 2 or 3-1, yet their paranoia controls our decision-makers. At some point, we’re going to have to figure out how to handle them, and the sooner the better. Any ideas?

    6 Responses to “For Conservatives, Hysteria Never Ends”

    1. gary morton says:

      How twisted!

      You and yours cannot see the forest for the trees as usual, until its too late……

    2. matttbastard says:

      Holy shit, what’s with the recent troll infestation? They’re making me pine for the Paulites.

      Steyn, alas, is Canadian (Ok, apologies for him, Bryan Adams and Celine Dion. Oh, and David Frum. We are truly, DEEPLY sorry. Srsly). Started out as a theatre critic for Macleans magazine — IIRC at the behest of Barbara Amiel, Conrad Black’s better half (snerk). Coincidently, Steyn covered the recent Black trial for Macleans, painting Lord Black of Crossharbour as a tragic martyr of the VLWC.

      I glibly looked at Steyn and right wing Eurabia histeria late last year.

    3. mick says:

      I asked for ideas on how to deal with them, Matt, and you answered by seeming to suggest we close the Canadian border. That’s a bit barn door/horses gone-ish, but certainly cutting down any future cross-border infestations would be desirable. My question, tho, went to those we’re already royally stuck with, like FrumSteynPodhoritzGoldbergKagan. How do we get people to stop listening to these nimrods? And what do we do with the trolls poisoning the country, not just my comment threads, who think Rush Limbo is a truth-telling patriot despite a 15-yr career of lying, smearing bigotry, and that Ann Coulter is, despite all evidence to the contrary, sane?

      Let me put it another way: How do you keep a paranoid-schizophrenic convinced that a nest of vampires lives in the town well from poisoning the community’s water supply? It’s a little like the problem we face with epidemic-carriers. Do we just, like, lock them up to keep them from killing people?

    4. matttbastard says:

      I offer glib asides rather than deep contemplation because, to me, at this moment, whistling in the dark is better for my mental health than slitting my fucking wrists (or falling off the fucking wagon after being sober three fucking months).

      YfuckingMMV.

      You know, at this point, I frankly don’t give a flying monkey fuck. Have been fighting the flu for nearly a week now, and don’t have the energy nor the desire to try and come up with meaningful solutions to seemingly insurmountable problems that have been growing and festering for years.

      Your country is being driven down the road to fascism; mine is currently helmed by a creatively destructive neoliberal theocon (on record as holding undisguised contempt for all that makes Canada uniquely Canadian) all-too-eager to join in the corporatist caravan and rend my country’s social fabric to tatters. Both nations are cursed with feckless opposition parties too busy either sleeping with the enemy or assembling circular firing squads to do their goddamn jobs.

      Oh, and don’t forget a sizable majority who could give a rats ass about politics. Makes for lame watercooler talk, dontcha know. Heroes is on tomorrow night; Rome is burning on HBO.

      Democracy has been reduced to a spectator sport, with a market share lower than water polo.

      My short, pithy solution (which isn’t really a solution, more identifying an even more imperative problem): find a way to effectively mitigate the overwhelming apathy of the majority, those who feel alienated by what they’ve been led to believe (and rightly so, in many cases) is an inherently corrupt political system.

      Put the participation back into participatory democracy at the grass roots; follow that with meaningful democratic reform (eg, here in Canada, a move from a FPTP parliamentary system to some form of proportional representation). A hostile takeover of the marketplace of ideas (think tanks, media, education, etc).

      Riot in the fucking streets. Make noise, cause a ruckus. Stop worrying about maintaining respectability, alienating the mushy mythical middle; the hysterical right sure doesn’t seem to worry much about what the neighbours might think.

      Above all, have the patience (and the collective will) to do what is necessary in order to powercycle the current political discourse and reset democracy–liberal, republican, social, parliamentary.

      Hard. Goddamn. Dirty. Bloody. Work.

      Now I hope you’ll excuse me if I leave the discussion, since at this point I have nothing more substantial to add other than further despair and vitriol.

    5. Dynamic says:

      For government of, by, and for the people to function properly, the people need to be properly involved. They (we!) need to be highly motivated, politically educated, and actively engaged in the political process. That political processs needs to be restored to a state of accessibility and comprehensibility. And the rule of reason – and rule of law – needs to be restored.

      I have to go to work now, but I’ll revisit this with some specific ideas when I get home. Matt is right to feel angry, though – and it is the core of passion that anger can produce that will drive us towards the results we need.

    6. Dynamic says:

      The market for hysteria is going to be roughly the same group of people no matter what. They’ve made up their minds. What is damaging in the absence of rationality they present is that they remain largely unopposed by the reasonable majority.

      To restore rationality to the public conversation, there has to be a public commitment – to education, to information, and to self-government. That can’t happen until voters shed their apathy in exchange for passion or, at the least, baseline dedication. A populace dedicated to self-government is largely immune to the shrill cries of the fanatics on any side of any issue – they can rant all they like, but they’ll be ranting with a voice that is proportionate to their real strength, and in the face of a well-informed populace, that’s quite small.

      The issue, then, is addressing voter apathy, which I believe can only be done by restoring a connection to government among the people. I’ve come up with two related approaches for doing this – one a personal approach that each of us can apply daily in our interactions with others, and one a government-wide approach that, properly implemented, can return democracy to those it belongs to – we, the people.

      On a personal scale, there are some important things each of us can be doing to help combat the power of the hysterical Right. These include:

      – Know your facts and be educated yourself.
      – Be willing to admit when you don’t know or may have been wrong – and then find out as soon as you can.
      – Talk about it – don’t be afraid to bring it up.
      – Be willing to compromise on details – but not on principles.
      – Be passionate – but not strident. And when others speak to oppose you, ACTUALLY listen. We’ve all been wrong before, and it may happen again.
      – Be positive about Democracy and optimistic about the future. It’s easy to be negative, and look where it’s gotten us.
      – Write to your local papers. All of them – hobby newsletters, community bulletins, you name it. Make the issue relevant to their interests – in truth, it ALWAYS is.
      – Write to your local representatives as well. Every bit counts.
      – Let people know that Democracy is a privilege AND a responsibility. Shirking that responsibility is more than just being lazy – if you are failing to vote and failing to pay attention to politics, you are fucking up the entire system. People rarely take kindly to having this pointed out, and that’s because they feel guilty – which means they know they’re doing something wrong. Furthermore, this is NOT an exageration – it is the silent, apathatic majority who have gotten us into this mess, and it’s time we let them know.

      It’s easy to sell the personal interaction short, but just as all politics is local, so all conversation is interpersonal – doing your part and speaking up with one person might be the key tipping point for your town, which can then influence the county, and so on. Don’t underestimate the power of you.

      On a national level, I believe that the following reforms to government will help to re-energize and re-engage the voters at large:

      > Election Day Holiday – working on election day disproportionately disenfranchises those who can least afford to miss work, and who work longer and more unusual hours than the banking set. Giving everyone the day off eliminates a primary conflict. This is also a prerequisite for…

      > Mandatory Voting – In a Democracy, being educated about your leaders, and carefully selecting them, is a duty – not a privilege. People cannot be forced to learn about politics without straying dangerously close to Orwellian programming, but people can certainly be required to do the minimum effort of casting a vote. Coupled with this should be the option to refuse to vote as a protest – but that must be recorded as an active choice, not simply implemented by failure to show.

      > Term Limits – A Democracy that installs career politicians is hardly a Democracy at all. Although there are a number of areas that need to be addressed in that regard, one that can do a lot of immediate good is the implementation of term limits. Give people two or three terms and then cycle them out. The most common argument against this is that you lose effective leaders – I say if government is so complex and institutionalized that you need more than three terms to be an effective leader, then that’s another problem entirely.

      > Representative Salary – Let’s face it – can YOU vote yourself a raise every year? This contributes to the national malaise by further disconnecting voters from their representatives. It also isolates our representatives from the issues facing us regular folk. So let’s tie their salary directly to the median income level. If they say that’s not enough to get by on, well, that certainly tells us something about the job their doing with our economy, doesn’t it?

      > Mixed Member Proportional Representation – The current first-past-the-post system, reduced as it is to two generally similar parties arguing over semantics and ideology, has been proven time and again to be inferior to MMP in every test relevant to Democracy. Giving more people a fairer say is the very essence of Democracy and should be embraced as such.

      > Shifting Regional Primaries – this has been floated as one solution to ongoing “Primary Madness,” where a few early primary contests determine the course of an entire election in a matter of days – and millions of dollars. Shifting the primaries around on an equitable and regional basis would alleviate this problem.

      > The End of Gerrymandering – So long as politicians remain in control of choosing their own districts, incumbancy will be a near-insurmountable challenge to overcome. This is something that rightly belongs in the hands of the citizens, be it in the form of a council, committee, or however local voters decide to draw their lines.

      > Public Financing of Campaigns – Democracy remains fair only so long as each of us has an equivalent number of votes. When dollars count more than votes, those with more dollars get more votes. Taking campaign financing out of the hands of the corporations and lobbyists and putting it squarely in the hands of the people restores free speech by giving us each the same voice.

      > Electronic Verifiable Voting – knowing that your vote ACTUALLY counts is key to getting people involved in the political process. This means making voting accessible – and in today’s world, electronic voting is by no means a difficult proposition – but also secure and accurate. 100% vote accuracy is attainable – and necessary.

      > Challenge Debates – Every four years we see a couple of debates on TV between a couple of people we don’t really care much about, talking about issues we don’t care much about. This year, however, saw the advent of the “YouTube” debate, pitting candidates against average people and the questions they cared about. Why can’t we do this every year, to people who aren’t facing an election? Let’s have them answer the people directly for a change.

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